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Signs of improvement

NORTH EAST LINCS

No one could pretend that raising achievement in North-east Lincolnshire is easy.

The area suffered from the decline of the trawler fishing industry, with schools struggling to combat high unemployment.

An inspection report, published three years ago, described the situation facing the local authority as "very demanding".

"The social and economic history of the area has left the schools with a need to confront low expectations both in the community and their teaching," the report said.

The problems faced by North-east Lincolnshire are by no means unique, however. Forty-six local authorities have a higher proportion of pupils who are eligible for free meals.

So why does The TES analysis show schools in the authority are providing children with the smallest bang for taxpayers' bucks in England?

Professor Alan Smithers, believes unitary authorities such as North-east Lincolnshire, which was formed in 1996, may have fared badly in the analysis because they took time to get to grips with their new responsibilities.

The council's social services department, for example, was criticised by the Bichard inquiry into the Soham murders for failing to respond adequately to the threat posed by school caretaker Ian Huntley.

Inspection evidence suggests improvements made in primaries may not yet have reached secondaries.

The Office for Standards in Education found that education services provided sound value for a moderate investment but that support to improve secondaries was weak, particularly compared with progress at primary level.

Councillors will be keeping their fingers crossed that this year's big rise in scores for 14-year-olds are the start of a wider improvement in secondaries.

Derek Kennard, head of standards for the authority, admitted that last year's results were disappointing. This year pound;120 was spent per pupil for each percentage point rise in GCSE scores.

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